The city of Qalhât is the focus of an enhancement project accompanied by archæological excavations conducted by Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée).
Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée)
Location and historical summary
The site of Qalhât is located approximately 50 kilometres north of Ra’s al-Hadd, the most westerly point on the Arabian peninsula, close to the modern town of Sur.
The town is mentioned by various chroniclers from the 12th century onwards. Several ancient authors suggest that it was founded around 1100 AD, and initial analysis of the site’s stratigraphy appears to confirm this.
The vast site covers almost 35 ha and has varying densities of occupation, marked by different sets of fortifications. The town clearly went through a golden age around the turn of the 14th century. It was part of the Kingdom of Ormus and at that time was overseen by the governor Ayaz and his wife Bibi Maryam. This period is characterised by the construction of a huge monumental complex near the beach, in the heart of the old town. Located here was the large mosque visited by Ibn Battuta in c. 1330 as well as, in all likelihood, the governor’s house. At this time, Qalhât was an important international trading port at the centre of complex trade networks. It was the second capital of the Kingdom of Ormus, which dominated maritime routes in the eastern Indian Ocean. The abundant imported pottery found on the site gives us an insight into these networks: it comes predominantly from Iran and the Indian subcontinent, but higher status pieces originated in the Far East.
The port of Qalhât appears to go into a slight decline in the later 15th century, and the Portuguese who made a stopover here in 1507 did so in a city which had lost momentum. The following year, according to their accounts, they slaughtered the inhabitants, pillaged their houses and destroyed some of the monuments. Though the extent of this destruction was probably exaggerated by chroniclers, Qalhât’s decline no longer in any doubt. Nevertheless, the town continues to be occupied, and the port remains active: pottery from the Far East is imported until the later 16th century. Indeed, the region has never been totally abandoned, and a village was built outside the old city walls, on the other side of the wadi during the modern period. The fortified town was, however, largely deserted, marked only by sporadic occupation probably linked with pastoralism.
The site resembles an enormous field of ruins scattered with walls and rare monuments, such the so-called mausoleum of Bibi Maryam. Starting in the 19th century, reference is made to the ancient city by certain travellers, and the site was partly known from the different texts which mentioned it. However, both the overall organisation of the town and its history remained largely unknown. It was not until 2003 that the first archaeological excavations took place.
The Qalhât Project (QP), an archaeological research programme on the site, was launched in 2008 by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman, under the direction of Axell Rougeulle (CNRS – UMR 8167) and in the context of the work of the excavation committee of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first four-year cycle finished in 2012 with a season of pre-publication. In 2013, a new four-year project was launched by the same institutions.
Alongside this programme, the Qalhât Development Project (QDP) was launched in 2013 by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman, under the scientific direction of Axelle Rougeulle. Qalhât is the largest archaeological site in the Sultanate of Oman, and one of the most spectacular. The authorities therefore wish to make it a national and international visitor attraction. The project consists of extensive excavations, as well as conservation of the excavated buildings. An interpretive centre is also planned for the site.
How Eveha International Participates
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (QP)
CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient & Méditerranée (direction, QP excavation, finds analysis, historical studies, zooarchaeology Labex ResMed) / UMR5133 – Archéorient (QP mapping project) / UMR8155 – CRCAO (study of Far Eastern imports) / UMR7264 – Cépam (resin and organic residue analysis)
UPMC, UMR7075 – LADIR Labex MiChem (chemical analysis of pottery)
MNHN, UMR7209 – Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnement (archaeobotany, ichtyology)
World Monuments Fund (conservation component of QDP)
Total (sponsorship of QP mapping project)
Iconem (QDP mapping project)